A Texas photographer was handed a $1 million verdict in a defamation lawsuit against a couple who allegedly tarnished her reputation and destroyed her business.
A jury in Dallas last week found Andrew and Neely Moldovan liable for $1.08 million in damages in a March 2015 civil suit involving their wedding photographer, Andrea Polito, according to CBS-DFW.
“It was really hard,”Polito told CBS-DFW. “My reputation was everything to me.”
The Moldovans initially hired Polito to photograph their October 2014 wedding. Weeks after the event, Polito was being emailed by the bride asking when the photos would be ready.
The photographer reminded the couple that they needed to submit an order form and choose a cover photo first, as per their contract agreement, according to the lawsuit. But after weeks of emails and the Moldovans objecting to the $125 cost for the cover, Polito decided she wouldn’t make them pay, Dallas News reported.
But two days after she emailed them to let them know her decision to absorb the cost, Polito discovered the couple had contacted local news outlets claiming she was “holding their photos hostage,” according to the lawsuit.
Polito’s 13-year-old business was effectively ruined almost overnight, she told Dallas News.
“People knew me and my reputation. I’ve shot several of the Dallas elites,” she said. “All the name calling, all the bullying … I was humiliated.”
According to the Dallas News:
The Moldovans also made “disparaging and defamatory” statements on social media and blogs, including Wedding Wire, about Polito and her company, saying she “cheated” and “scammed” people, the suit states.
Andrea Polito’s photography business received several one-star reviews online after an NBC5 interview with the Moldovan couple aired in January 2015. In a Facebook conversation, Moldovan who now blogs at “It Starts With Coffee” said she was “pretty sure [Polito’s] business is done,” the suit states.
The couple also “liked” a number of defamatory statements published by other people, such as one on Yelp that accused Polito of giving the reviewer AIDS, the suit stated.
Claims by the Moldovans that people using fake profiles were posing as them online was proved false, according to Polito’s attorney, Dave Wishnew.
Following the 2015 NBC story, which aired at the beginning of Polito’s primary booking season, business nearly disappeared. Where she would normally book between 75 and 100 weddings in a season, that year, Polito said she booked only two.
“My business was destroyed overnight,” she told CBS.
Polito has not picked up a camera to shoot a wedding in nearly two years and said she was forced to close her business.
“I felt completely dead,” she said. “You know, it was my passion and I loved my clients and I loved what I did.”
“No one is saying you can’t go and write a review,” Polito’s attorney, Dave Wishnew said. “Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequence. Things you put on the internet to attack a business have real world consequences and that really resonated with the jury. You can’t go and burn someone’s house down and claim free speech.”
The jury awarded Polito $1.08 million in damages for the Moldovans’ malicious, defamatory and disparaging statements, according to court documents.
“I was proud of my accomplishments, what I have done. They took that away from me,” Polito told Dallas News. “It’s been a fight for myself to get my reputation back.”
“I’m emotionally exhausted. This has been a very long battle,” she added. “Last Friday when the verdict was read I felt a little bit relieved, but most importantly I feel my reputation was restored to myself. What’s been so hard the past couple of years has been feeling so ashamed of this story.”
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